[b-greek] Re: Response to Ward Powers re Voice (1)

From: Kimmo Huovila (kimmo.huovila@helsinki.fi)
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 04:57:20 EST

"Carl W. Conrad" wrote:
> What I have argued (and attempted to present some evidence to
> support) is that the semantic value of so-called "deponent" verbs is not
> inconsistent with the observed semantic values for the morphoparadigms in
> which they appear--and that this is the case whether we're talking about
> those traditionally-termed "middle deponents" (present in -MAI, aorist in
> -MHN) or those traditionally-termed "passive deponents" (present in -MAI,
> aorist in -QHN or if we're talking about the significantly large number of
> verbs with "active" present-tense morphoparadigms but "middle" future
> morphoparadigms.

With this I am in agreement. One would not expect morphological marking
to be arbitrary, but rather that the Greeks felt these categories to
have something in common also semantically.


> I did mention the interesting form of APWLETO that surely seems to be used
> in a passive sense in 1 Cor 10:10. Let me throw in another. In an off-list
> exchange with Kimmo Huovila I asked him whether he thought there was any
> semantic difference between EGENETO and EGENHQH. I trust that Kimmo will
> not object to my citing his immediate response and then his respone
> following further reflection:
> At 11:00 PM +0200 11/6/01, Kimmo Huovila wrote:
> >Kimmo Huovila wrote:
> >
> >> > (CC) And would you claim that there's any semantic
> >> > difference between the concomitant Koine forms EGENETO and EGENHQH?
> >>
> >> Not necessarily. I could approach the meaning from both middle and
> >> passive viewpoints. I think this is a case of overlap. Now, this does
> >> not mean that an analysis finegrained enough would not find a semantic
> >> difference - either in style, register, sosiolinguistics etc. but these
> >> may now be well beyond our reach. It's hard for me to believe that no
> >> distinction could be teased out (if we could analyze lots of native
> >> speakers from different areas, ages and social groups), but generally
> >> speaking, I would not claim any (significant) difference, and for the
> >> insignificant difference that they presumably was, I do not know what it
> >> might have been.
> >
> >Upon further reflection, I think that neither is semantically middle.
> >Perhaps we should label both passive. Middle and passive semantics are
> >sometimes close and it is easy to see a historical shift, but
> >synchronically EGENETO is not semantically middle. It seems that even
> >with the rise of the passive, it never drove the passive function
> >completely out of the older middle-passive paradigm.
> I was really quite surprised at this. Aware though I am that EGENETO is
> regularly translated in the Vulgate with FACTUM EST, the perfect tense of
> FIERI which functions as the "passive" of Latin FACIO, yet it seemed to me
> that EGENETO doesn't usually carry the sense of "was made." Or does it
> perhaps do so more often than we might suppose? Is there a real semantic
> difference between EGENETO and EGENHQH?
> What about DUNAMAI? This is tricky because its future is regularly "middle"
> DUNHSOMAI and its aorist regularly passive HDUNHQHN. Does the verb mean "I
> can/am able"? or does it mean "I am enabled"? I don't know how the other
> morphological taggers have interpreted the GNT evidence, but I was frankly
> shocked to find that Accordance shows 210 forms of DUNAMAI and lists only 4
> of these as middle, all of them future "MP" forms, while it lists 206 forms
> as passive, including 6 future "MP" forms and all 9 aorists in -QH-. While
> I don't doubt that some of these forms marked as passive really do mean "be
> enabled" yet I'm really surprised that all those presents in -MAI/SAI/TAI
> are tagged as passive. I'm curious what Dale Wheeler will say about
> this--and what Kimmo will say about this too, which is why I've cc'd both
> of them.
> At least one possible implication of this is that the semantic boundaries
> between middle and passive are not so clearly drawn as we might suppose.
> Must we always assume that a verb that is passive semantically is the
> patient and/or experiencer of an action performed by some other?

I would say no. I see no evidence that in the Greek passive there is
anything to indicate that it is performed by some other.

I am not thoroughly acquainted with all the linguistic research on
voice, so I do not know if my way of using terminology is somewhat
idiosyncratic. I agree with Carl's assumption that the three
morphological paradigms had a meaning and that so-called deponents were
not a separate category of exceptions. I assume the Greeks did not feel
any significant semantic difference between the meaning of morphological
voice of a deponent verb and of a non-deponent one. Whatever meaning we
want to assign these categories, it must be wide enough to cover all
these typical uses with ease. At the same time it must be able to
explain why the -QH paradigm is commonly used as a passive for the
morphological active and middle paradigms, and why the middle paradigm
so often accommodates clear middle semantics. I also think that the
semantic split between passive and middle morphoparadigms is not

I do not think that the -QH-paradigm is necessarily passive in the sense
that it has an active counterpart. The existence of an active form need
not affect the meaning of the passive. That's why I feel that we need to
think of semantic roles of participants. And even so, the same event may
be conceptualized either actively or passively, depending on
perspective. Just like the same event can be selling from one point of
view and buying from another. Or English 'exist' is active, whereas
Swedish 'finnas' is passive (or perhaps Iver would say middle - anyways
the term used in school grammar in Finland for that was (deponent)
passive). This is the sort of thing I expect to see in Greek.

As for DUNAMAI, by thinking of it as a passive, I do not mean that some
one else is enabling. The sense is hardly 'be enabled' but rather 'be
able'. But if Greek had a verb *DUNAMI, 'to enable', I could easily see
that DUNAMAI 'to be able' is a passive of it, even if no one is there
actually doing the enabling. I am not sure that this is commonly called
a passive, but anyways it seems the Greek passive works like this. It
was a passive to the Greeks just as much as one that fits Iver's
definition, in the sense that that was the more important distinction
from the standpoint of the language than anything relating to an active
counterpart. The fact that there is no *DUNAMI is accidental in that it
is not relevant to the meaning or status of DUNAMAI.

Same goes with EGEQH/EGENETO. I did not mean that it is equivalent to
English 'was made', which much more clearly refers to some one external
doing the making. It describes change on the part of the subject. I
would not call it middle because it does not really seem to share much
of typical middle semantics. But perhaps passive is not the best term -
maybe in this context I have stretched the meaning of the term passive
too much. Should we perhaps not consider these categories primary, but
analyze semantic cases (in the Fillmorian tradition) and consider
passivity (as a counterpart of an active or middle verb) one of its

One more note on the distinction between EGENETO and EGENEQH. I have not
done any thorough study on the distinction. All I did was take a
concordance and read through several examples of both types, and I could
not see any significant distinction. Neither did I find one by checking
a lexicon. I did not have the time for a trhorough investigation, which
would be needed before drawing any final conclusion. This is a lexical
question, and important as such. But at least according to my
understanding of the way Greek voice functions, I would not really
expect any significant difference - on the other hand, if one is found,
that does not really hurt my view either (of course depending on what
kind of a difference it is). I trust others will conduct a more thorough
study than I could at this time.

Kimmo Huovila

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